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American Life in Poetry
By Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate 2004-2006

I've talked often in this column about how poetry can hold a mirror up to life, and I'm especially fond of poems that hold those mirrors up to our most ordinary activities, showing them at their best and brightest. Here Ruth Moose hangs out some laundry and, in an instant, an everyday chore that might have seemed to us to be quite plain is fresh and lovely.


All our life

so much laundry;

each day's doing or not

comes clean,

flows off and away

to blend with other sins

of this world. Each day

begins in new skin,

blessed by the elements

charged to take us

out again to do or undo

what's been assigned.

From socks to shirts

the selves we shed

lift off the line

as if they own

a life apart

from the one we offer.

There is joy in clean laundry.

All is forgiven in water, sun

and air. We offer our day's deeds

to the blue-eyed sky, with soap and prayer, our arms up, then lowered in supplication.


Reprinted from Making the Bed, Main Street Rag Press, 2004, by permission of the author. Copyright 1995 by Ruth Moose, whose latest book of poetry, The Sleepwalker is due out in 2007. This weekly column is supported by the Poetry Foundation, the Library of Congress and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

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